Why we take class

As actors we often take for granted how strange what we do actually is. I’m not talking about the job itself, although a whole separated blog could be dedicated to that subject. I’m talking about the in’s and out’s of our daily lives. Hours spent at Kinko’s printing up and stapling resumes to head shots. Sitting with an open script on the subway and silently mouthing lines to ourselves. Time requested off of work to run to every audition, call-back, and student film that comes down the line. Sitting where my friends are (that is at the end of a cozy bar sipping craft beer every Monday night while I am running late to a last minute rehearsal) my life looks pretty chaotic. And then, of course, there is class.

Class is time consuming and expensive. We’re talking four hours for the class itself, two rehearsals a week, and that’s not even counting doing your own work alone on your scene. And then there is the cost. On the low end a class can run several hundred dollars. On the high end, you are looking at quite a bit more. So why do we do this to ourselves? Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but I do have a theory.

On my very first day taking Cay’s class, wet behind the ears with a brand new pack of ball point pens and a moleskin, the first scene I experienced was from Uncle Vanya. It was what we in the acting world would call a “Monster”. Long, emotionally complex, and requiring a subtlety that is shockingly difficult to find sometimes. The actors in this scene were Migina and Christina. It was an excellent experience because I learned very quickly that Cay wouldn’t be pulling any punches. They were several weeks deep in working this particular scene and, to put it bluntly, it came off flat. They knew it. Cay knew it. And Cay was not afraid to let them know that they were doing work that was well beneath their capabilities as artists. Fast forward four weeks, past increasingly stronger rehearsals, and the girls had the scene as if they were born playing the parts.

Now another fast forward, this time one year later to present day. In our last class Migina and Christina have again been paired up on a Monster. This one is from Othello, when Desdemona sends Amelia away before the climax. On Tuesday they ran only their second rehearsal, and guess what? It was miles ahead of the work I saw last year that was four or five rehearsals in!  They already had blocking, had made strong choices, and they knew who they were to each other. I’m not saying it was perfect, but it clearly showed an advancement in the speed and depth at which they are now working compared to this time last year. They had grown as artists and the growth was impressive.

Back to my original query: why do we take class when we could be sipping craft beer in Brooklyn? Well why do painters do dozens of pieces in the same style? Why do professional athletes hire personal trainers? Why do composers often work within the same genera? I think it’s because there is ALWAYS room for growth. Being able to do something once is luck. Being able to repeat it is proficiency. Being able to tap into it anytime is mastery. It’s fitting that the quote “Luck is where preparation meets opportunity” is by Seneca, a Roman Playwright. We actors recogonize that we are first and foremost artists. Any self respecting artist knows that there is as much value in the practice of art as there is in the execution. Class is about the opportunity to practice, to work over and over on those places we know are weak. It is a safe place to try out every choice and impulse and quite often to fail spectacularly. In the failures we become stronger, learn to work faster and more fearlessly, and when that opportunity eventually presents itself, the actor who has preparation is going to beat the one who doesn’t every time.